Diamonds, Hockey Skates, Beavers & Bikes

Diamond mining was first introduced in Canada in the early 1990’s when geologists discovered the diamond-encrusted kimberlite pipes in the Canadian North. Currently, there are three major diamond mines in operation in NWT, all a short flight from Yellowknife which prompts the city to boast the title: “Diamond Capital of North America”.

In April (2016), we had the unique opportunity through our work to travel 300 km north of Yellowknife by small plane to one of these diamond mines. As soon as we took off northbound, the terrain closely resembled a tundra-like landscape; small trees, shrubs, and white barren lands as far as the eye could see. Since our plane flew so low to the ground, we had an amazing view of the vast networks of winter and ice roads from Yellowknife to the mine sites and across the Nunavut/NWT border. As we approached the mine site, we had a spectacular view of the open mining pits spiralling into the frozen ground. The mine site was a city in itself. Located on an island in the middle of the sub-arctic landscape, the mine site was a bustling hub of large machinery and industrial buildings.

It was interesting to learn about the operation of these mines in Canada. Canadian diamonds appeal to a market of those concerned about environmental and human rights issues as the mines place environmental standards above all and also provide northern communities with high-paying jobs.

When we returned to Yellowknife, we took advantage of the last days of ice in April by getting ourselves some ice skates and hockey sticks. With several rinks around the city (two of which were within walking distance of our house), there was plenty opportunity to test out our skills. The rink on Frame Lake was our go-to spot since, most often, we had the whole rink to ourselves! We were able to skate on Frame Lake safely up until the end of April when the city ceased upkeep and we were actually starting to hear the ice cracking under our skates.

Before the official melt, we also returned to pay a visit to the crumbling remains of the Snowcastle on Yellowknife Bay. It was a dramatic representation marking the end of the magical winter wonderland in Yellowknife and leading us into the spring thaw. April was a messy transition from snow and pebble-covered ice to loose pebbles on wet pavement. By the time May came along, the streets had melted and cleaned up and the sun was back for increasingly longer periods of time.

In anticipation of the thaw, we had ordered ourselves two double inflatable kayaks so we would be able to take full advantage of the intricate networks of water around Yellowknife. At our first opportunity, we took our vessels out for a paddle on Vee Lake. Our spring thaw enthusiasm was rewarded by a beaver sighting! As we paddled up to get a closer look, the beaver displayed a clear warning sign that we were getting a little too close for comfort by slapping his tail in the water. We heeded his warning (picturing the size of his incisors and remembering that we were sitting in a vulnerably inflatable vessel) and paddled back to the dock excited about our wildlife sighting (and our apparent narrow escape from deflation).

At the end of May, we were (somehow) convinced to partake in the most intense endurance bike ride Yellowknife has to offer: YK2HR, AKA Yellowknife to Hay River, NT. That’s approximately 500 km over 3 days – on bicycle! Pretty much an insane endeavour, especially for two untrained cyclists riding 10-year-old hybrid bikes. We decided that the smartest way to participate was to mostly volunteer our physio services to the more serious cyclists. We biked about 30 km for fun and then followed the others, offering our assistance at rest stops along the route. Maybe next year (with some new bikes) we can be better prepared to ride…

Adam & Amanda

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